Comment | Is Labour Ed and Buried?
Although Labour’s position in the polls has seen no substantial boost during the past few months, the general consensus appears to be that Ed Miliband has recovered after a poor summer. After criticism from within his own party, he has finally realised that, as leader of the opposition, he is required to formulate policy. Consequently, during the Labour Party conference, he presented us with a handful of policies from a reversal of the ‘bedroom tax’ to the ‘one in, one trained’ apprenticeship scheme. His performances during Prime Minister’s Questions have arguably become more powerful as his leadership has gone on and the Conservatives have been forced to respond to Miliband over issues such as the Syrian crisis and his new raft of policy ideas.
But is this recent surge of popularity that is present in the tabloids actually reflected in public opinion? Miliband has given his word that energy prices will be frozen if he makes it into power, but a recent poll by Labour List has shown that only 37.9 per cent of the population actually supports the policy. In fact a majority favour the coalition government’s energy plans, including 38 per cent of people who intend to vote Labour in 2015, suggesting he has not yet made the leap to becoming a convincing leader. Amid the usual theatrics of Prime Minister’s Questions, Cameron declared that although Miliband would like to live in a “Marxist universe”, the British government cannot control the international wholesale price of gas and claimed that the Labour party required “a basic lesson in economics”.
Indeed, when Miliband proposed the price freeze, the energy companies immediately retaliated, arguing that the notion was “insane” and the consequence of fixing the nation’s gas prices would be country-wide power failures. Widespread opposition to the policy indicates that this has not been the springboard Miliband had hoped for.
During an interview with Andrew Marr that opened the Party conference, Miliband remained evasive about a number of key issues. He failed to give a firm commitment to increasing the minimum wage and when asked about the EU referendum and potential tax increases, was only able to provide, “we’ll spell out our plans at the next election.” His reluctance to commit to a policy he may not be able to implement is hardly surprising given the repercussions for past leaders who have failed to keep their promises. However his lack of certainty undermines his authority as a potential Prime Minister and his indecisiveness has caused confusion over what Labour’s policy details actually are.
The steady rise of UKIP has caused many to question the stability of the right wing vote and Nigel Farage may well steal votes from the Conservative party. Although the polls are currently in Ed’s favour, many commentators are predicting that, despite support for UKIP, the Conservatives will remain a step ahead, as Miliband has not confronted the main weaknesses of his party. When key Labour MPs are describing their leader as ‘lacklustre’, how can the electorate have faith in him as Prime Minister? In short, Miliband has a long way to go if he is to convince people he can be a capable, commanding and confident Prime Minister.